Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith

Title:  Love Over Scotland

AuthorAlexander McCall Smith

Illustrations by:  Iain McIntosh

Paperback:  357 pages

Publisher:  Anchor Books (div. of Random House)

Publish Date:  2007

ISBN:  9780307275981

Miscellaneous:  This is the third book in McCall Smith’s 44 Scotland Street series.

There was no electricity in the village, of course, and when night descended – suddenly, as it does in the tropics – Domenica found herself fumbling with a small Tilley lamp which the house servant had set out on the kitchen table.  It was a long time since she had used such a lamp, but the knack of adjusting it came back to her quickly – an old skill, deeply-ingrained, like riding a bicycle or doing an eightsome reel, the skills of childhood which never left one.  As she pumped up the pressure and applied a match to the mantle, Domenica found herself wondering what scraps of the old knowledge would be known to the modern child.  Would that curious little boy downstairs, Bertie, know how to operate an old-fashioned dial telephone?  Or how to make a fire?  Probably not.  And there were people, and not just children, who did not know how to add or do long division, because they relied on calculators; all those people in shops who needed the till to tell them how much change to give because nobody had ever taught them how to do calculations like that in school.  There were so many things that were just not being taught any more.  Poetry, for example.  Children were no longer made to learn poetry by heart.  And so the deep rhythms of the language, its inner music, was lost to them, because they had never had it embedded in their minds.  And geography had been abandoned too – the basic knowledge of how the world looked, simply never instilled; all in the name of educational theory and of the goal of teaching children how to think.  But what, she wondered, was the point of teaching them how to think if they had nothing to think about?  We were held together by our common culture, by our shared experience of literature and the arts, by scraps of song that we all knew, by bits of history half-remembered and half-understood but still making up what it was that we thought we were.  If that was taken away, we were diminished, cut off from one another because we had nothing to share.

-Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith, pages 174-175

Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith was both the first book out of the 44 Scotland Street series that I’ve read, as well as my first experience reading Alexander McCall Smith.  It will not be the last on either account.

At first, though, I was uncertain if I would like it.  McCall Smith has a quiet writer’s voice.  Whereas other authors may have said Irene was a self-absorbed, narcissistic mother who lived her life vicariously through her six-year-old son Bertie, McCall Smith does this by simply having Irene constantly saying, “Melanie Klein says” this or that, as if to let the other person know they are a stupid twit and should stop talking (including her own husband, Bertie’s father).  Irene is an absolute helicopter mom, and McCall reveals this about her through Bertie, who thinks, “nobody [is] always there, except perhaps [my] mother.”  McCall Smith’s writing is subtle, and instead of compelling the reader forward, he floats you along on the currents of the story.

While being a 3rd book of a series, Love Over Scotland is perfectly capable of being a stand alone novel.  It may have helped in the beginning had I had the background, however the characters show themselves and develop quite well on their own in this book.

Quick Summary of Love Over Scotland:  44 Scotland Street is the address of the apartment building in which most of the characters live, with the exception of Angus, Matthew, Pat (who lived there in the previous novels but has moved), and Big Lou, who owns the coffee shop they all frequent. 

  • Irene, Stuart and Bertie are a young family in one flat, and the “Bertie Project” is Irene’s attempt at making Bertie into a super-genius and prodigy.  She pushes and bullies people, only listens to Dr. Fairbairn (Bertie’s therapist) because he’s the only one who is as intelligent and informed as she, and even goes so far as to manipulate the Edinburgh Teenage Orchestra into admitting her six-year-old son, much to Bertie’s lament and opposition.
  • Pat and Matthew are co-workers and Matthew has a thing for Pat, who sees him as being a “nice guy,” which means boring.  Pat, on the other hand, meets a man who calls himself “Wolf” and is smitten (or bitten?).  But honestly, is it possible for a guy named Wolf and who uses “Hey there, Little Red Riding Hood” for his pick-up line to be any good?
  • Domenica is an anthropologist who has gone to study pirates in Malaysia.  When she arrives at her bungalow in the village, she is told the young man on the porch is there to serve her in every way. :-D  While Domenica is having her tropical adventures, her friend Antonia, who is writing a historical fiction about sixth century Scottish saints behaving badly, is subletting her 44 Scotland Street flat, and isn’t getting along very Angus.  Cyril, Angus’s dog is dog-napped while tied up outside an Italian market and has to make his “Incredible Journey” back to his man.
  • And Big Lou’s heart is in the right place when she loans her fiance Eddie a big chunk of cash (£34,000) to open his own restaurant AND made him co-owner of her coffee bar.  When Eddie begins telling her of his new waitresses, ages 16 and 18, and his aspirations to open a gentleman’s club (complete with pole dancing) instead of the restaurant, Big Lou remembers his past legal troubles in the US with underage girls.

The book is altogether fun, with a message of loving and accepting each other and that you can greatly increase the happiness in the world by giving someone a gift. :-)  The book is written from an omniscent third person POV, but not exactly the omnipresent.  You kind of flit from mind to mind, listening to the thoughts of each participant briefly, including peeks into Cyril the dog’s thought processes.

My favorite characters were definitely Bertie, Angus and Cyril, and Matthew, and I was rather fond of Big Lou, too.  I have mooched 44 Scotland Street from PBS and added Espresso Tales (the second book of the series) to my wishlists.  ALSO, there is a fourth book in the series, The World According to Bertie, that came out last year, and I’ve added it to my WLs, as well.  I’m going to have to give The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency books a go, too.  *sigh*  So many books, so little time!

For it’s fun, light hearted and warm storyline and characters, I give Love Over Scotland by Alexander McCall Smith 5 out of 5 stars.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The following video clip is of a street performance in Edinburgh.  I thought it encompassed Bertie’s love of music, Wolf’s smexiness, and the city the book takes place in, not to mention the desire being felt by several characters and the exotic setting of Domenica’s pirates….  and okay, I admit it… the lead drummer is hawt! :-D

Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park

Title: Mansfield Park
Author: Jane Austen
Publisher: Borders Classics
ISBN: 9781587265402

Published in 1814, Mansfield Park was Austen’s third published novel. More serious and complicated than the previous two, Mansfieldis the story of a young woman, Fanny Price, who is brought from her povertous family of 7 siblings to live with and under the care of her very wealthy aunt and uncle, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram. If young Fanny is the Mansfield heroine, then Mrs. Norris is certainly her arch nemesis, and it is this same “Mrs. Norris” that is Argus Filch’s cat’s namesake (from the Harry Potter series) .

The book begins with three grown sisters who take different paths in marriage: the eldest becomes Lady Bertram of Mansfield Park, the second marries Mr. Norris of Mansfield’s parsonage, and the third, Fanny’s mother, marries a man with little money and has 8 children in 10 years without the means to take care of them. Mrs. Norris decides that Sir Thomas, Lady Bertram and herself should take one of their youngest sister’s children off her hands, and Mrs. Norris decides it should be Mrs. Price’s eldest daughter. Of course Mrs. Norris has no intention on spending a penny on Fanny’s care, but she claims all the credit and pain for the kind rescue of her niece from skid row… and Mrs. Norris never misses an opportunity to remind Fanny where she came from and how she owes her life to the Bertrams and herself for putting forth the idea to bring her to Mansfield.

“There will be some difficulty in our way, Mrs. Norris,” observed Sir Thomas, “as to the distinction proper to be made between the girls as they grow up: how to preserve in the minds of my daughters the consciousness of what they are, without making them think too lowly of their cousin; and how, without depressing her spirits too far, to make her remember that she is not a Miss Bertram. I should wish to see them very good friends and would, on no account, authorise in my girls the smallest degree of arrogance towards their relation; but still they cannot be equals. Their rank, fortune, rights, and expectations will always be different…”

After her cousin Maria marries and takes her younger sister to Brighton, Fanny is the only girl left in the main at Mansfield. Having always been the shy, nervous wall-flower who never goes out, she suddenly finds herself the center of attention. She is romantically pursued by the disreputable flirt Henry Crawford. Edmund, the only person in Mansfield who has always treated with respect and love and with whom Fanny is secretly in love, is in love with Mary Crawford, Henry’s sister.
When Edmund leaves to make his living as a minister, Fanny finds herself in crisis as Henry Crawford proposes marriage. If she says yes, she betrays herself… but if she says no, she will be perceived as an ungrateful, wicked, proud and obstinate wretched girl with whom everyone will be disappointed. What can she do?

I have thoroughly enjoyed reading Mansfield Park. This was my first experience with this story, having never read nor seen any movie of it. It was fantastic, and I felt the same joy and discovery I found when I first read Pride and Prejudice. I had forgotten how exquisitely Austen could put different story lines together into on main work.  I had forgotten how reading Austen is like taking a walk through an expertly landscaped garden, where new and wonderful things are revealed gradually and build upon the whole, not a fast and flat snapshot.  I had forgotten how reading Austen is like eating a fine meal of several courses until you nearly weep from appreciation of the culinary arts, not like a number 4 at the fast food joint.

Fanny Price is definitely not one of my favorite of Austen’s characters.  She’s too mousy, weak and put-upon.  I just wanted her to scream at them.  I wanted her to take the ice pick to Aunt Norris… but I guess that’d be a different genre.   She’s Austen’s answer to Cinderella, with a wicked aunt instead of a step-mother.  Lady Bertram is worthless as a wife, mother and person in general, doting completely on her pug.  As a mother Lady Bertram is wickedly bad; she is willing to sacrifice the happiness and future of her own children in deference to her own comfort.  It’s sickening to watch so many worthless people place themselves as superior to one of the only decent people at Mansfield.

Despite it all, horrible as it might be… I must admit that Mansfield holds one of my favorite Austen characters.  I cannot help but love Mrs. Norris as a character.  I have laughed so hard at her vexations and everytime she is foiled in her self-promoting schemes.  What’s more, Mrs. Norris is the literary twin of my grandmother, so I laugh even harder since I’ve met the woman.  Austen’s characters are my recycled relatives!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 494 other followers